Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Attention and Polyphonic Music
by Francis, Kelly Anne, Ph.D., University of Rochester, 2011, 205; 3478289
Abstract (Summary)

When we listen to music containing more than one instrumental or vocal part, we usually do so in a figure-ground manner so that only one part receives focal attention while the remaining parts act as background. To date, factors influencing selection in real musical contexts have not been well understood. In this study, I therefore aim to determine the factors that cause one stream to stand out over another and capture listener attention in polyphonic music.

After a review of relevant literature, I create a preference rule list for attention and polyphonic tonal music listening and demonstrate each rule with excerpts taken from Mozart's and Beethoven's string quartets. I then test three of the rules in two experimental studies: these include 1) prefer to attend to the highest part, 2) prefer to attend to parts with chromatic pitches, and 3) prefer to attend to parts with accented non-chord tones.

The results of both experiments showed that listeners prefer to attend to the highest part and secondarily to the lowest part: attention to the middle part was weakest. Additionally, results showed that while chromatic pitches and accented non-chord tones do not attract attention as they sound, they draw attention, at least in the outer parts, to the stream in which they occur after they subside, thus validating the rules.

Following the experimental study, I analyze passages from the first movement of Beethoven's Quartet Opus 18/2 to demonstrate how the rules play out across a larger time span. In this analysis, I propose that 1) changes of attentional focus produce sensations of tension and relaxation and 2) that these changes influence listeners' conception of musical organization. Finally, I conclude with suggestions for future research.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Temperley, David
Commitee: Aslin, Richard, West Marvin, Elizabeth
School: University of Rochester
Department: Eastman School of Music
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 73/02, Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Music
Keywords: Accented non-chord tone, Attention, Chromaticism, Polyphony, Preference rule
Publication Number: 3478289
ISBN: 9781124957265
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